MPs contend for reality of biological sex

MPs across the political spectrum have urged the Government to restrict the term “sex” in the Equality Act 2010 to biological sex.

The fiercely contended Westminster Hall debate was triggered by two opposing petitions – each attracting over 100,000 signatures – on whether the law should be reformed in support of sex-based rights.

Those in favour of clarifying the law argue that current ambiguity around the word ‘sex’ makes it more difficult for single-sex services to limit their facilities to biological women.

Plain facts

Speaking in support of the clarification, former Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena MP said: “Biologically, males cannot become females and vice versa.

“That is true whatever pronouns people want to use for themselves, whether they wish to take hormones or have surgery. These are plain, biological facts”.

Biologically, males cannot become females and vice versa Former Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena MP

His fellow Conservative Miriam Cates agreed, pointing out: “It is extraordinary that in 2023—a time of unprecedented knowledge—we are arguing about the definition of something that has been known since the dawn of time.

“The most contentious question of our day has famously become ‘What is a woman?’—a question that no previous society has felt the need to answer.”

Women’s safety

Labour’s domestic violence shadow minister Jess Phillips said that the “status quo is not working” and that “it cannot be left to individual women’s services to muddle through and fight legal battles”.

Her party colleague Rosie Duffield MP said: “the debate over trans rights and women’s rights has become toxic in recent years, partly because the law as it stands is not clear”.

Duffield argued that the Gender Recognition Act, which allows someone to change legal sex, was never “intended to provide an access-all-areas pass to single-sex services”.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry highlighted concern in Scotland over the “lack of clarity in the law as it stands, particularly in the light of the debate about self-identification in Scotland”, which would make it much easier to change legal sex.


However, Cherry’s SNP counterpart Kirsty Blackman suggested that such a clarification would be impossible because “nobody has been able to provide” a satisfactory definition of biological sex.

She admitted to having “no idea” about her chromosomes, adding: “I assume that they are probably XY, but I do not know”.

Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, Anneliese Dodds MP defended the current system as providing “an effective and robust framework”.

Responding to the Westminster Hall debate, the Government said it recognises “the importance of biological sex” and will take time to consider the issues raised.

EHRC advice

In April, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) advised Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch that ‘sex’ should be clearly defined as biological sex under the Equality Act.

The EHRC offered its opinion in response to a letter from the Minister seeking its “considered advice” on amending the current definition of ‘sex’ in the Equality Act (EqA).

Chairwoman of the EHRC – Baroness Falkner of Margravine – told Mrs Badenoch that, on balance, “redefining ‘sex’ in EqA to mean biological sex would create rationalisations, simplifications, clarity and/or reductions of risk” in a number of current areas of legal dispute.

Also see:


PM: ‘Biological sex is fundamentally important’

EHRC chairwoman defends biological sex despite online abuse

Belief in biological sex upheld by Maya Forstater tribunal

Court: ‘Men can take women’s positions on boards if they have a gender certificate’

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